Catchings to Earn First of Many Hall of Fame Citations
I have known for a long time that I would write this blog.
The problem has not been knowing what to write – but how and where do I draw the line? You see, the topic is so voluminous, that I can’t write EVERYTHING that comes to mind.
But with that word – EVERYTHING – I’ll start there. This blog is about Tamika Catchings, the Fever’s ALL-EVERYTHING superstar forward.
Friday, she will be inducted in to the Lady Vol Hall of Fame at the University of Tennessee, where she starred for four seasons (1997-01) and helped the Vols to a famed 39-0 NCAA championship team in 1998. She helped Tennessee to four SEC titles and is one of just two four-time WBCA All-Americans in Lady Vol history. She was the WBCA Player of the Year as a junior.
Catchings has earned awards by other halls of fame, but not yet has she received actual induction into one. Rest assured, this is the first of many for the former NCAA champion and player of the year, three-time Olympic gold medalist, five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, 2011 WNBA MVP, 2012 WNBA Finals MVP and two-time WNBA sportsmanship award winner.
It is my job to promote her and say nice things about her. She has made that job easy. In fact, I have uttered the words more than once that she has made me the luckiest PR guy in sports. Who else can work for 10-plus seasons with their sports’ best athlete and best citizen all at the same time? That is a rare commodity, and through it all, Tamika is as approachable, personable and genuine as the first day I met her.
While pitching stories or in mere conversation with members of the media, I have described her in this fashion, saying, “she is unquestionably one of the top five women’s basketball players on the earth; yet she is an even better person.” That about typifies the essence of Tamika Catchings.
There is no wonder why the Indiana Fever has reached the postseason in nine consecutive seasons and 10 times since 2002. When your best player is also your hardest worker and best teammate — it’s tough for her teammates not to follow. Since 2009, Indiana has twice reached the WNBA Finals, winning a championship in 2012. Those teams have been characterized for their courage, resilience, character and chemistry — all attributable in large part to Catchings.
I have been blessed to work with her since I arrived from the University of Maryland in 2003. She was the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2002, after being drafted and rehabbing a knee injury in 2001. I have worked with her for 11 seasons; she has been one of the WNBA’s most elite stars through 12 seasons; and she has been a pillar in the Indianapolis community for 13 years.
She established a lifelong dream by creating the Catch The Stars Foundation in 2004, and her passion in growing the charitable foundation has been as great as her passion on the court. The Foundation has added components to its community work nearly every year since its inception, and it has expended to include camps and clinics in other cities. The Foundation sponsors mentoring programs for boys and girls, and boasts a college scholarship program each year for local high school scholar-athletes.
In February 2011, she announced a partnership with her alma mater to assist at-risk high school students in Knoxville.
Catchings has frequently been recognized or honored by U.S. Presidents, and annually, she is noted as one of our country’s finest citizen-athletes. This blog would ramble for too many more thousands of words if I were to identify all of her accolades. But she is deserving of all of them.
As she prepares for her 14th WNBA season next summer, Catchings is mounting a serious challenge to almost every career record (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks) in league history. As an all-around player who works both ends of the floor, she is the ONLY player in league history to rank among the top 20 career leaders in every one of those statistics. Not one other player is in the top 20 of ALL of those categories. Catchings, though, is in the top TEN in all of them. She already owns WNBA career marks for steals and free throws, and she is in the top five for points and rebounds. She is the only player taller than 6-feet tall to rank among top 10 leaders in assists.
On the court, she does it all. EVERYTHING, if you will. Off the court, she is equally as superb.
One of my favorite stories was when she conducted a pair of Indianapolis fitness clinics at the same time she was playing for Spartak Moscow in Russia, in November 2005. In consecutive weeks prior to Thanksgiving, she flew through the day and night to arrive in Indy late Friday evening. She conducted her clinic one week on Saturday afternoon and returned to Russia the same evening. The next week, after the clinic, she treated kids from her S.T.A.R.S. mentoring program to a dinner at St. Elmo’s Steak House before returning to Russia on Sunday morning.
An important note about those clinic weekends is that her admission fee for participation was 10 canned food items. No cash required, no monetary reward for her return. She conducted her own clinics and the canned goods were part of an annual donation to Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. The dinner at St. Elmo’s? It was an opportunity presented by her mentoring program to teach kids about etiquette and manners, and give them an opportunity many might not otherwise have had.
I could go on, but I’ve gushed enough. There is a new era of athletes entering the WNBA that already has challenged her status as a top-five player — though none are as complete or accomplished in their all-around game as Catchings. And none is nearly as accomplished in community giving.
[I’ll give my own assist to Catchings’ cause and let you know that her holiday basketball camp is still accepting registration. This year’s event is Dec. 27-29 at Warren Central High School. Prior to Dec. 1, participants may take advantage of an “early-bird” offer for just $75 while space allows. Visit catchthestars.org for more information.]
Tamika, congratulations. I, the Indiana Fever, Indianapolis, the WNBA and the world of women’s basketball are blessed by your inspiration, passion and commitment.